Running a perfect meeting takes a lot of work. Running virtual meetings can be even harder due to added challenges. But it’s a skill that’s critical to master.
More organizations have gotten comfortable with employees working remotely. And many employees prefer the option of remote work. This means many teams will continue to work remotely even after it’s not required for social distancing.
But many teams need to get better at running virtual meetings. There’s a lot you can do to run a virtual meeting room and improve the experience for your participants.
Benefits of Running Virtual Meetings
Virtual meetings offer the following benefits for a remote team:
1. Increased accessibility. People can attend no matter where they are in the world. And you can record the session and share it with those who may not be able to attend.
2. Cost savings. Virtual events don’t require travel expenses or the cost of renting a meeting space.
3. Time savings. Online meetings don’t require meeting attendees to travel for in-person attendance.
4. Increased Flexibility. Since participants can attend from home, meeting organizers have fewer scheduling constraints.
5. Convenience. The organizer doesn’t have to find meeting space for an on-site event. And virtual meeting software allows you to present from your laptop for all to see.
6. Increased productivity. Attendees don’t lose time traveling between meeting locations. And even when social distancing is required, teams can continue to meet.
7. Increased inclusivity. With everyone attending virtually, this ‘levels the playing field’ for every attendee. If half the meeting participants are in a room together, it can be difficult for people attending remotely to hear what’s being said in the room.
What Makes Running Virtual Meetings More Challenging?
- Communication is harder if you’re not in the same room.
- It’s tough to keep attendees engaged.
- Getting through to attendees who learn or take in information in different ways.
Virtual Meeting Etiquette
Consider these elements of running an online meeting to create a great experience:
- Mute your microphone. Mute your mic when you’re not speaking so you don’t distract others with background noise.
- Dress appropriately. During work-from-home days, team members are dressing more casually. Don’t get too casual. Maintain a sense of professionalism in the way you dress.
- Clear the clutter. Look around and check your background. Move laundry or background clutter out of your camera’s view.
- Look in the camera. Look into the camera on occasion during your meeting. It gives attendees the feeling you’re making eye contact once in a while.
- Be aware of your surroundings. We’ve all heard stories of family members walking through the background in their underwear. And barking dogs can drown out speakers. Plan ahead to avoid tricky situations.
- Have everything you need ready. Have your presentation and other meeting materials open and ready to share. Otherwise, your peers will have to wait while you dig through files to find what you need.
- Introduce yourself if needed. If you’re presenting, introduce yourself if everyone there doesn’t already know you. And when speaking, you might simply say, “Jane Smith, Communications” and then make your statement or ask your question. This helps others have more context for your statement and get to know you a bit better. Plus, it’s great for visibility and building relationships.
- Avoid pinstripes if you’re presenting on camera. Wearing shirts with pinstripes on camera creates a distorted and distracting effect. Some prints can have the same effect. To be safest, wear clothing that won’t be distracting.
How to Make Virtual Meetings More Productive
Before Your Virtual Meeting
- Make sure you actually need a meeting. Many people schedule meetings by default and hold more meetings than they need to. Consider if your meeting goals could actually be accomplished with an email instead.
- Accommodate various time zones. In order to have the right people at your meeting, you’ll need to consider time zones if your attendees are in different parts of the country or the world. Aim for a time that fits into the regular working hours of all participants. I love Worldtimebuddy for this purpose.
- Test your tech. Make sure your internet is up and working. Make sure the tools you’re using are compatible with your system.
- Send the agenda ahead of time. Everyone will know exactly what to expect from the meeting and will be able to come more prepared.
- Send out meeting links ahead of time. Make sure attendees know how to access the meeting with enough lead time to download software and log in by the time the meeting starts.
- Engage a co-facilitator. Have someone who can monitor the chat window and provide backup support if your technology presents problems.
- Be ready for multiple presenters if needed. Make sure your tools allow multiple presenters to lead or share in the session.
- Know who’s presenting. If you have multiple presenters, align on when each person presents. Make sure each person knows who will be sharing the visuals and how much time each presenter will have.
- Know the limitations of your software. If you’re hosting a meeting with a huge number of people – more of a presentation or training with a large audience – make sure your software can support it.
During Your Virtual Meeting
- Start with small talk or a meeting icebreaker. If you’re launching a new team into a working session, using a simple icebreaker can help build trust and rapport. This can be as simple as opening with chit-chat or discussing the weekend or weather. It helps team members warm up and get to know one another a little better.
- Set expectations and share guidelines. Ask everyone to mute their microphones unless they’re speaking. If you’re doing a long presentation, you might instead use the Mute All feature and have participants raise hands if they wish to speak. You could also have participants use the Chat feature to share comments.
- Keep everyone engaged. This can be more challenging if you can’t see everyone in attendance. Attendees may feel it’s easier to multitask. Call on participants by name when asking direct questions. “Sarah, I know your team has had some experience with that. Can you tell us some things that worked well for you?” In these situations, call the person’s name first so their ears will perk up and they’ll better hear the whole question – just in case they happen to multi-tasking.
- Encourage video. Team members get more of a “meeting face-to-face” feeling if they can see one another. And they’re more likely to be engaged during the meeting, Team members build more rapport and trust when they can see faces. It improves communication when you can read expressions and body language. If you’re encouraging participants to use video, let them know in advance so no one is caught off guard.
- Don’t have side conversations with others in the room. This can be problematic for multiple reasons. First, you’re not fully engaged in the meeting. Next, others can likely see or hear you and it’s distracting.
- Use Good Lighting. Don’t sit in front of a bright window. This will create a backlight that will make you appear as a silhouette. Others won’t be able to see your face or your expressions. Instead, use lighting in front of you. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive lighting. Simple lamps or a window in front of you works well.
- Slow the Pace. To accommodate possible technology lags, allow your meeting to move at a slightly slower pace. Speak clearly and don’t rush.
- Use the mute button. Background noise is distracting. Ask participants to go on mute when they’re not talking. And don’t be afraid to mute them yourself if your technology allows it.
- Use reaction icons. Many virtual meeting tools now have reaction icons built-in that let participants quietly show support, celebrate, or clap without interrupting the speaker. These also keep participants engaged since they’re taking an action in the meeting.
Use the Right Virtual Meeting Tool
For a great virtual meeting, you need the right tools. Your virtual meeting space needs to accommodate different types of virtual communication. This could mean not only video, discussion, and screen sharing, but also collaboration, and maybe even instant messaging and breakout rooms for your web meeting.
There are multiple tools that provide video conferencing, screen sharing, and even breakout rooms for your online meeting. Choose the virtual platform that gives you what you need for a successful virtual meeting.
Some popular virtual platform options to consider:
- Zoom meeting is easy to set up and also cost-effective. It offers a free option for smaller live meeting needs.
- gotomeeting is cost-effective and integrates with other tools and provides drawing tools and breakout rooms for collaboration in larger sessions.
- Microsoft teams gives you an easy way to quickly start a web meeting, along with instant messaging and collaboration tools like file sharing, and making video conference calls.
- Cisco Webex free option allows one presenter to share with up to 100 participants, with a 50-minute time limit. It also has collaboration tools like interactive whiteboarding for remote team working sessions.
These are only a few of the options for hosting a remote meeting. Whichever online tool you select, consider what you need from an online meeting tool as you’re planning your meeting.
Running virtual meetings can be challenging. But there are many benefits and they’re often required.
It’s crucial you learn how to make the experience positive and productive for your participants.
By following these tips, you’ll be running virtual meetings that others will enjoy and maybe even look forward to.